Thursday, November 24, 2005

dead or alive

Penniless and ragged, we are happy;

Content in pain, and in fear still happy;

With surrender's wine, happy for all time,

We'll hide the fact that, not being you, we're happy.

#1321: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

My head feels like it's cracking open after sharing some cheap wine with a friend last night. We exchanged many a gripe, a dream and a realization. The first line in today's quatrain appealed because we are both "penniless and ragged" (by local standards), she because she plans to abandon her small, poorly paid work while I've not had paid work in almost twenty years. I'm not so content in the pain of my hangover, so I've called on some aspirin to assist. However, pain and insecurity are ever recurring phenomena in any life. The wine in the poem is the attainment of saintly acceptance, I think, a sense of eternal bliss. And then finally the fourth line comes and I'm at a loss. Grrr ... classic Rumi, this.

I get the feeling that there is something missing in this poem, a missing link, a missing meaning. Who or what is "we"? And who or what is "you"? Given the context, the fact that this poem is one of many written on the theme of Shams' disappearance, it occurs to me that the poem is precisely about something missing. It is about a vacuum left behind. My imagination (my Rumi-nation) tells me this vacuum or non-presence is the "you". Rumi is saying, then, that our deepest most essential joy comes from simple being. I am. That's all. Even in pain, I'm almost smugly happy that I am. And once I am not, I'll not know about it. Happiness will become irrelevant. Whether that thought convincingly alleviates it or not, the fear of death itself cannot take away my deepest happiness at being alive. I am, and I am not dead right now.


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